2010 AL Playoff Rotations: Texas Rangers

This past weekend the Rangers clinched the AL West, their first division championship since 1999. Many things have gone well for the Rangers this season, and while a full look back will be worth doing after the playoffs, this post, like Friday’s on the Minnesota Twins, is a forward-looking post about their starting rotation going into the American League playoffs.

The simplistic take on past Rangers teams has been “good hitting, bad pitching.” This has always been at least a bit problematic in the past because the Rangers’ home park has tended to exaggerate both their hitters’ prowess and their pitchers’ futility, at least when looking at raw stats. This season, they’ve hit well, but their pitching has taken a step up. One season’s stats don’t tell the whole story, so while I’ll list each player’s 2010 statistics, I’ll also include numbers from the most recent update of CHONE’s pitcher projections (using CHONE’s context-neutral component nERA and also a FIP I derived from the stat line) to give a sense of each pitcher’s current “true talent.”

1) Cliff Lee, CHONE: 3.29 nERA , 3.16 FIP
2010: 6.6 WAR, 2.66 FIP, 3.28 xFIP, 2.75 tERA, 3.29 ERA

I’d call Lee the other forgotten AL Cy Young candidate, except I just remembered that what a player does in May and June doesn’t count for awards voting. But hasn’t Lee been a lot worse in Texas, anyway? Let’s see, his K/9 rate is slightly higher. His walk rate has doubled all the way up to over one per nine innings, and his HR/FB rate skyrocketed to almost league average. His xFIP in Seattle was 3.21; in Texas, it is 3.35. Whatever might be going on with Lee’s back, it looks to me like he’s basically the same pitcher as he was in Seattle, except he forgot not to let his HR/FB ratio regress to the mean when moving from one of the best pitcher’s parks in the league to one of the most hitter-friendly parks. Since 2008, Cliff Lee been one of the best pitchers in baseball. Of the likely AL playoff starters, only Francisco Liriano and CC Sabathia really match up with Lee.

2) C.J. Wilson, CHONE: 3.13 nERA,* 3.53 FIP*
2010: 4.2 WAR, 3.58 FIP, 4.23 xFIP, 3.78 tERA, 3.15 ERA

I include the asterisks because it looks like CHONE is still projecting him as a reliever. I’m not sure how CHONE or other projection systems handle reliever-starter switches, and obviously it needs to be accounted for. The (very) general rule is to add one to a reliever’s FIP/ERA to see what he would produce as a starter. That is a only a general guideline, though, and Wilson has outperformed all but the loftiest expectations of his transition into a starting role. Wilson walks a lot of batters, and his 4.23 xFIP reflects some good fortune on fly balls (5.1% HR/FB ratio, the league average this season is about twice that). However, Wilson strikes out a lot of hitters and keeps the ball on the ground enough to make it work.

3) Colby Lewis, CHONE: 3.47 nERA , 3.48 FIP
2010: 4.4 WAR, 3.52 FIP, 3.94 xFIP, 3.51 tERA, 3.72 ERA

Lewis has probably been better than Wilson; he has a better FIP, xFIP and tERA. Lewis hasn’t quite had Wilson’s good fortune on fly balls (although Lewis certainly hasn’t been unlucky) , and that’s a bit more of a problem because he’s a flyball pitcher. However, he has a very good walk rate and a higher 2010 K/9 rate than any of the other starters on Texas’ staff.

4) Tommy Hunter, CHONE: 4.83 nERA , 5.07 FIP
2010: 0.7 WAR, 5.02 FIP, 4.75 xFIP, 5.20 tERA, 3.83 ERA

…and then there’s Tommy Hunter. Yes, his ERA is good this season, and yes, xFIP indicates he’s has some bad luck. But he’s basically the Rangers’ version of Nick Blackburn. I guess Hunter strikes out a few more hitters than Blackburn, but he also walks more and gives up more fly balls. Basically, he’s an acceptable back-of-the-rotation starter during the regular season who a team really shouldn’t want to count on during the postseason.

The good news for Rangers fans is that Texas may not have to start Hunter in the Divisional Series, as the team is considering pitching Lee on short rest. As far as I can tell, the Rangers are the only team in the American League with three starters each over 4.0 WAR so far this season. Assuming Lee is healthy (and I doubt the Rangers would consider pitching him on short rest if they didn’t think so), the combination of Lee, Lewis and Wilson may be the best “top three” in the AL playoffs.

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

9 Responses to “2010 AL Playoff Rotations: Texas Rangers”

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  1. Adam D says:

    I can’t tell you how excited I am as a Rangers fan to see them in the playoffs again. And Oct 9 will be a great day for me, as I get to see the Rangers first home playoff game since I was in college, then walk across the parking lot to see my Razorbacks take on TAMU at JerryWorld (timing still to be determined).

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  2. philkid3 says:

    Matt, from your perspective, would you advocate the team stick with Hunter as the #4 or go with Holland or even Feldman?

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    • Hmmm… that’s a bit tough. I’d rather hear from Rangers fans who have obsessed over each pitcher’s most recent appearances… I do think that Holland and Feldman are both better than Hunter, but choosing between them is a bit difficult. Holland obviously has the greater potential, and the Ks are nice, but he has a bit of a problem with walks so far. It’s a small sample in the majors, but I’d be a bit worried about Holland’s platoon issues against a team with a number of good right-handed hitters. Feldman avoids walks… and that’s about it. He’s a rich-man’s Tommy Hunter.

      Just from looking at the numbers, I’d rather start Feldman or Holland than Hunter, I think… but I’d be curious to read more on why the Rangers chose Hunter, I’m sure they have their reasons.

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      • philkid3 says:

        As such a Rangers fan, I want Holland. Not only because I think he’s better than Hunter right now but because I think he has the upside to maybe-just-maybe do something great. I could understand diving in to the matchups given their different handedness, though, and if the club goes with Hunter I’ll just hope they’re correct.

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      • MYoung says:

        As one of those Rangers fans… I think the Rangers choose Hunter over Feldman and Holland based simply on “attitude”. Hunter just seems more confident… and when things go wrong he bears down. Both Feldman and Holland tend to implode when things go bad. As far as I can tell, the numbers don’t really separate the three all that much… but the team has more confidence in Hunter keeping his composure and pitching well than Holland (who can be lights-out one day, and all over the place the next) or Feldman.

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  3. WY says:

    “Whatever might be going on with Lee’s back, it looks to me like he’s basically the same pitcher as he was in Seattle, except he forgot not to let his HR/FB ratio regress to the mean when moving from one of the best pitcher’s parks in the league to one of the most hitter-friendly parks.”

    I believe there were a couple of posts about that one stretch he had a month or so ago when he was getting knocked around, both at home and on the road. He wasn’t “the same pitcher” during that stretch. (I know, I know, you’re going to say that all balls in play are created equal and then let that override the observations of anyone who watched the games….)

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    • Well, balls in play aside, I’d say that in general his true talent isn’t quite as awesome as it looked in Seattle, and is probably better than he’s seemed in Texas according to more superficial numbers… how’s that for a gutless compromise?

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  4. Cliff Lee's Changeup says:

    Wahoo! good article

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  5. Toller Artikel. Sicher gar nicht verkehrt, sich inklusive der Thematik intensiver auseinander zusetzen. Ich wird bestimmt eine gute nächsten Beitraege in der sparte Auge behalten.

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